Powell: Niger evidence too weak for UN presentation

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Indy Politics

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, said yesterday he did not mention the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal in his now famous presentation to the UN Security Council because he "did not think it was strong enough" ­ even though President George Bush included it in his State of the Union address just a week before.

In a revelation that adds further doubts to whether the White House knew it was making false accusations when Mr Bush addressed Congress on 28 January, General Powell said that having looked at the intelligence on which the claim was based he decided not to use it. "I didn't think it was strong enough," General Powell told reporters in Pretoria, South Africa, where he is accompanying the President on his tour of Africa. "[The information] was not standing the test of time ... I didn't use it, and we haven't used it since."

General Powell's presentation before the UN Security Council on 5 February was perhaps the most comprehensive public explanation of the Bush administration's case for ousting Saddam Hussein. Supported by audio recordings and graphics, the Secretary of State made a seemingly persuasive case that the Iraqi leader had developed weapons of mass destruction. "We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction ­ he's determined to make more," he told the Council. "... Should we take the risk that he will not some day use these weapons?"

The claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger to develop nuclear weapons was based on documents provided by the Italian intelligence service purporting to show a deal. Once the US gave themto the UN's atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency on 4 February ­ the day before General Powell addressed the UN ­ it took the agency's experts just 10 days to conclude they were fakes.

But his admission that he had personally looked at the intelligence and concluded it was not valid raises new questions about who knew what at the most senior levels of the administration. Despite this, General Powell claimed yesterday that Mr Bush had no reason to apologise for making the false accusation. "There was no effort or attempt on the part of the president or anyone else in the administration to mislead or to deceive the American people," he said. "The President was presenting what seemed to be a reasonable statement at that time."

The BBC came under more pressure to reveal the source of its "sexed-up dossier" report yesterday, when a Ministry of Defence official agreed to address the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee on his links with the journalist Andrew Gilligan. Downing Street has claimed that the official, David Kelly, was a "mole" who had met the BBC's Mr Gilligan. Dr Kelly will appear before the select committee next week.

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